While many applaud Manchester United’s famous academy for its production of the ‘Class of ’92’ that saw the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all become household names, there are also those who ridicule it for its hit and miss nature in recent years.
When you produce as many academy players as Manchester United, some are bound to flop. It doesn’t help, however, when every single prospect is treated as the ‘next big thing’ even when, you know, clearly aren’t.
Still, though, there’s no shame in graduating from United’s academy – or any for that matter – and not becoming a world beater. While many will fly under the radar after leaving Old Trafford, some go on to have decent careers elsewhere.
Dwight McNeil has enjoyed a stellar career at Burnley since debuting in 2018, and is now their star man. And at just 20 years old, the Englishman is have a very bright future ahead of him – but that wasn’t always the case.
McNeil was a part of the Manchester United academy, but was released aged 14. While that’s enough to mentally shatter most teens, McNeil signed with Burnley and kicked on, taking him to where he is today.
From a young up-and-comer to one of the experienced heads at Burnley, Phil Bardsley’s time at Manchester United was much more fruitful than McNeil’s.
Bardsley rose through the reserves at United and made his debut in 2003. He made 18 first-team appearances before leaving in 2008. Perhaps he wouldn’t have dealt Wayne Rooney that knockout punch if he was given more of a chance at Old Trafford…
Now one of the first names on the team sheet in Chris Wilder’s impressive Sheffield United side, Oliver Norwood has had to take the long route to the top.
Norwood signed with Manchester United at seven years old and signed his first professional contract with the club in 2009. He never managed to make a first-team appearance, however, and left for Huddersfield in 2012.
Danny Drinkwater now finds himself desperately trying to regain some momentum on loan at Aston Villa, after being seemingly exiled by parent club Chelsea.
Before his Premier League title win at Leicester and subsequent move to Chelsea, Drinkwater was a Manchester United academy star. He signed with the Red Devils aged nine, but left in 2012 without making a first-team appearance after several loan spells.
Now 34, Tom Heaton is entering the latter stages of his playing career but has enjoyed personal successes in recent years such as his senior England debut in 2015.
He was a regular in the reserves at Manchester United throughout the early 2000s and made the first-team bench on several occasions during the 2007/08 season when Edwin van der Sar was out injured.
Still just 28 years old, Robbie Brady has endured a tough time with injuries in what should really be is best years as a professional.
The versatile left winger/full back got his break in England with Manchester United, joining the academy shortly after turning 16. His only first-team appearance was as a late substitute in the League Cup in September 2012, but he would leave permanently a few months later.
Enjoying somewhat of a career renaissance under Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, Michael Keane was once a member of the Manchester United academy along with his twin brother.
Michael and Will Keane both joined United age 11 and signed as scholars at 16. But while Michael is now the one playing Premier League football, it was his brother who was expected to be playing at the top level, having impressed at all youth levels as a striker.
His only start for United was in their 4-0 loss to MK Dons in 2014. One to forget, really.
Should Manchester United’s late bid for Joshua King in the January transfer window have been successful, it would’ve actually heralded the start of the Norwegian’s second spell at the club.
King signed with United upon turning 16 in 2008 and became a frequent goal scorer at youth level. He made just two senior appearances – both as a late substitute – before leaving in 2012.